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A Different Look at the Parable of the Talents

In reading William James’ excellent essay, “The Will to Believe”, he argues that:

“Scepticism, then, is not avoidance of a choice; it is choice of a certain particular kind of risk. Better risk loss of truth than chance of error,—that is the skeptic’s exact position. He is actively playing his stake as much as the believer is; he is backing the field against the religious hypothesis, just as the believer is backing the religious hypothesis against the field. To preach scepticism to us as a duty until ‘sufficient evidence’ for religion be found, is tantamount therefore to telling us, when in presence of the religious hypothesis, that to yield to our fear of its being error is wiser and better than to yield to our hope that it may be true.”

I have always argued that modern science is a revival of ancient Epicureanism. I have argued that the the avoidance of pain and suffering of every kind is the end of modern science, but I have said this thinking of the desired results of modern science and not the motivating origins of it. The scientific man, that is, the skeptic, who claims to only admit what he can observe to be true, is moved by sloth and cowardice.

He may appear diligent in his studies and research, but he is afraid of losing what he has and, as James said, is content to miss out on what is true and good for the sake of avoiding what might be false or bad. He is afraid of making a mistake. He is afraid of losing money. He is afraid of suffering some physical pain, or being humiliated by a failed endeavor. He desires to move only when he can be guaranteed that his move will be successful.

Sure, his work in research may include some failed experiments, and he may speak of boldly challenging popular ideas, but all of his work is provided for before he undertakes it. He is assured of his financial and professional security before he takes any risk, and when he does so, the costs of that risk is paid for by others.

This reflection has led me to think of Jesus’ parable of the talents. In the parable, he says that three men are given money by their master and are told to make good use of it while the master is away. The response to this challenge reveals the wisdom and goodness of three men. The first two men are hopeful of profit and invest the money they are given. In doing so, the accept the risk of losing the money, being humiliated, possibly being punished, etc.. They accept that risk because they are optimistic that they will not lose, but may win. The hope of success is more attractive to them than the fear of failure. They go and trade and make a profit–and are commended by their master as “Good and faithful servants”.

The third servant is of a different disposition. He is afraid of the market; afraid of loss; afraid of humiliation. Instead of doing business with the money entrusted to him, being moved by a fear of loss, he buries his money in the ground to keep it safe until the master returns. For this man, the fear of failure is greater than the hope of success. When his master returns, he is angry with him and condemns his as a “wicked and slothful” servant.

Note the condemnation: wicked and slothful.

Note that the man averse to loss is called slothful. It is certain that, when questioned, he could give a clever, scientific answer about the dangers of doing business, the instability of the market, etc., but this would not be wisdom speaking. This would be a smokescreen for the vice of sloth. This sloth is, itself, the fruit of a heart that is ill-disposed, which looks at the world and human affairs wrongly. The optimism of the investing servants is not immoral, reckless or imprudent, but necessary and good. The world is designed to demand of man a certain degree of optimism–to bury his seed in the ground in hope that it will not die but multiply. The Scriptures tell us, “They who sow in tears, shall real with joy.”

Suffering is the means to joy, and the joy is greater than the suffering. God has designed it to be so to reward the good and faithful.

The modern skeptical scientist has none of this optimism, none of this courage, none of this joy. Worse, he diligently teaches his way of thinking to the people so that the entire society is filled with this pessimistic, slothful mindset. The human race, buries all of its potential in the ground, because it is more afraid of losing than hopful of winning. In doing this, men cause themselves to never win and live in self-induced misery.

This skeptical spirit hides behind a mask of responsibility and prudence, but it is not so. It is cowardly, slothful and miserable.


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